Friday, March 20, 2009

My Kingdom for a Blue Box! (not) Recycling in Cancun

My first few months in Mexico were a maze of confusion. About everything! I hadn't planned on moving here so knew very little of how things worked. (For those behind on the story, I came on vacation with a backpack and accidentally stayed here, anywho....). One of my first realizations that life here was different came when I tried to dispose of my refuse. Every day I would gather my garbage and my bags of recycling and go looking for blue boxes. I was convinced that they had to be somewhere, it couldn't be possible that in 2003 they weren't recycling! I would ask people where to put my cans and paper and they would point to the garbage cans. I would try to express, "No, no, this is special garbage, it has a special place" which of course led to numerous guffaws and pointing at the stupid white girl. After a while I grudgingly put my cans in the trash bin, feeling the ache of guilt in my heart and the small ray of hope that some day I would find the magical blue boxes.

I'm amazed at what a hard habit it was to break, after so many years of living in Canada where recycling was essential (and mandatory), quitting the recycling habit was difficult to say the least. I was never an "eco-freak" or activist, but I did live the recycling life. Sadly I find that after five and a half years here, I rarely think about it anymore. There are still no blue boxes and I still put my recyclables in the general trash can, but now with less and less guilt. I find that I consume far less here than I did in Canada, but I do throw away my fair share of plastic Coca Cola bottles.

This is not to say that recycling doesn't exist here, but it is not a program for the whole city and it is not widely practiced. There are some bins (somewhere I'm told) where you can bring used batteries and there used to be a plastic recycling center in the Sam's parking lot but last I looked it was gone. The Department of Ecology of Cancun has recycling drives every so often, but it doesn't seem to be a regular event. Their website seems to come and go as well so trying to stay on top of their services is frustrating. Saving up all my recyclables for the possibility of an event in an unknown location, well, ech, no tengo ganas (it's so much better in Spanish, it kind of means "I don't have the energy" but that's not quite right). The website is up today (hurray!) and I notice that they are having a "Reciclathon" on March 28 between 9 and 3. Here's a copy of the announcement....

So for any Cancunenses who may be interested, mark the date and start saving up your bottles and cans and cardboard and cartuchos (printer cartridges). I'll make sure to save up my Coca Cola bottles (there will be quite a few by then) and head on over myself, I'd love to be able to get back to my more eco-friendly ways. Now, if they would just start a blue box program, I'd be a happy happy Cancunense!


Jonna said...

You can recycle in Akumal, and CEA assures us that it really isn't all thrown together later.

Here in Mérida, I'm still confused. Supposedly, some days the garbage pickup is for orgánico and others for inorgánico. Oh, can you believe we have garbage pickup SIX days a week? I just can't figure out which days are which type. The neighbor told me that Meridanos don't care, put anything out any day and they take the garbage anyway. I would like to play by the rules, it's that English disease again, but I can't remember what they are ;) Can you also believe that we get this daily garbage pickup for a mere $17 pesos a month?

Historias de la India said...

Congratulations for the Blog award...great site...I have enjoyed reading it!
I'm an expat living in India now but I lived in Mexico 5 yrs and its a great country...specially Cancun. I lived in Colombia too and I can tell you Mexico is very safe... for all of you who are still wondering to visit Mexico or not.
Very interesting articles here...pls keep writing and dont stop!

Sue said...

I know the feeling, I don't like just putting all that stuff in with the regular garbage either. I know we have recycling here, the place where they take it is on the road to the market, so in the hopes that I'm helping, I do put our aluminum, plastic, and glass containers in a separate bag just in case they do separate it. On the other hand, when I'm in Canada it feels weird to put fruit and vegetable garbage in with the regular garbage, because here on Isla we put that in our garden as compost. With our climate it breaks down really fast and nourishes the plants.

I'm with you, I hope city-wide recycling comes soon.

Calypso said...

If I wrote this Blog entry I would be accused of being one of those ugly gringos trying to change the fabric of Mexico - bravo for you trying to save Mexico's environment!

It is all we can do to keep the people from burning their plastic pop bottles to avoid the one peso per bag (any size) trash removal fee here in our Hood.

Quit drinking Coke in any case ;-)

Thanks for the entry.

Bob Mrotek said...

Actually there is quite a bit of recycling going on in Mexico but for the most part it is invisible. Every sizable city has a dump area where the trash is brought and it is thoroughly picked over by people called "pepenadores" (gleaners) who salvage every little piece that is recyclable. Some of these people make their entire living that way. Most of the recycled Coke bottles go to Asian countries such as China to be made into clothing and other articles for us to buy at Walmart.

Anonymous said...

I was in Salt Lake City, UT just last month where the company I work for rented out an entire theatre for a sales kickoff. I asked one of the theater employees where the recycling bin was for my diet Coke bottle. I was told “just throw it in the garbage we don’t recycle.” What??? I know that I live in what is known as the “greenest” city in the USA. Recycling is normal for me so when I hear that there is no recycling I get a bit freaked out.

ElleCancun said...

Ohhh - good to know :) Gracias amiga!

Cdn Cat said...

First off, Happy belated Birthday and congrats on the Bloggers award!
Years ago I remember wondering what was up with all the bags hanging on the posts in Cancun at night. So one evening my roomate looked in one. Well we had a good laugh because uptill then we had no clue what to do with the garbage that was accumulating in our apartment!
Here in Canada as well as the blue box recycling program (I had to teach the blue box technique to my brother & his wife from Non recycling Texas) we now have green bins. These are for all kinds of kitchen waste and other rotting sorts of things. Lovely thing to have hanging around in the heat of the summer, considering collection is once a week. What bothers me is all the plastics that wash ashore on less travelled beaches of Mexico, spoiling the natural beauty.

Simon Burgess said...

LAst night at a party our guest asked us if we had a bin for inorganicos and one for organicos...we didn't and I felt terrible, but at the same time it's so tough to know where, when and how to recycle in Mexico.

I live in DF and whilst some colonias have more visible recycling ours doesn't. Having said that the bin men here always sort through rubbish for cardboard and plastic bottles etc but again you never know wheher or not they will be coming.

Having said that Mexico City just passed a law banning plastic bags from super markets which is more than they have back in London...

P.S this is the alter ego of @insidemexico :)

Islagringo said...

OXXO now has containers on their counters for recycling batteries! I separate my Coke cans and plastic bottles and put those out separately. I have noticed that people walking by will take the bag of cans but not the plastic. Not sure if the plastic just gets put in the heap or not but it makes me feel better to know that it is separate if they want it. I also put out unwanted or unneeded items on the curb. They are always gone within an hour. That's recycling too I guess.

CancunCanuck said...

Jonna- It seems Akumal is ahead of Cancun and I think that's great. Six day a week garbage pickup? No wonder Merida is so clean, fantastic! I'm like you, the "English" disease makes me want to play by the rules too.

Lorena- Welcome, nice to e-meet you! Thanks for the comment, I'm going to take some time to peruse your blog as well, always interested in reading about other ex-pat experiences. Take care!

Sue- Good to know that at least an attempt is being made on Isla to make things greener. It's been so long since I was "N.O.B.", I'm sure I would have some reverse culture shock with regards to all of this too.

Calypso- I wish I had the power to make the necessary changes, but alas I am just a small voice in a sea of garbage. As for the Coca Cola, it's a bad habit, but it's not the worst I've had. :)

Bob- We've got some "gleaners" in our neighbourhood, a few families who go through the garbage cans here looking for bottles and cans. I do try to keep my plastics in a separate bag for them, but I don't think many others do. The dump is another big problem in Cancun, a new landfill has been in discussion for years with no one being able to agree on a suitable location. Which part of the jungle do we destroy for the garbage of a city of 3/4 of a million people plus the millions of tourists that come through every year? Tricky issue for sure.

Jackie- How odd, I thought that most of the US and Canada were totally on board with the three R's! I would have been a little disconcerted in the theatre as well, is there not a recycling law?

On Mexican Time- Spread the word amiga!

Cdn Cat- Thank you and thank you. We're fortunate that the next door neighbour went out and bought a large metal trash can for the street, otherwise we'd still be hanging bags from the lamp posts. (The lamp post with non-functioning lamp of course). Glad to hear that Canada is still moving greenly forward. The trash on the beach is depressing, I always wonder where it could all possibly come from.

Simon- Hola and welcome. Thanks for the info on DF, I am curious to know how other Mexican cities deal with their trash. (Hm, strange thing for me to be curious about, but I am!) I heard someone at a party last night say that they were banning plastic bags here too, that would be a great step. I got my free fabric grocery tote in my 18 pack of Sol yesterday so I am ready, lol.

Islagringo- Funny, we just don't seem to have any batteries lying around to recycle, we use rechargeables as much as possible. The curb side recycling tradition is great, one man's junk is another man's treasure!

Kelly said...

That's great! People here complain about the mandatory recycling in my city because they are SUPER strict and will fine you for putting things in the wrong bin (one big trash can with wheels for garbage bags, one for recycling) but I love it!

I heard this on the radio this morning, thought you might be interested in hearing what NPR says about the "Mexico Situation":

Kelly said...

Also, Texas recycles! Read a previous comment, just have to represent for us...we get a bad rap sometimes :)

CancunCanuck said...

Kelly- Yay Texas for recycling! Great link for the NPR, thanks.

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